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Top 10 things to do in AlUla on the Saudi Founding Day weekend

  • Saudi “Founding Day” this year coincide with AlUla Arts Festival 2023, themed ‘Living in Color’

As the Kingdom prepares to commemorate its Founding Day, audiences in Saudi Arabia will be treated to a weekend full of activities engaging the community with their heritage in which everyone can meet ancient art that has been kept for thousands of years alongside new and contemporary art that reflects our current time, presenting a rich program of special exhibitions on contemporary art and design with the agricultural events.

Saudi “Founding Day” this year coincide with AlUla Arts Festival 2023, themed ‘Living in Color’ which explores art that revels in the polychromatic, imbuing the environment of AlUla’s stunning landscape with dazzling hues through curated public art installations and shows. 

During this weekend all visitors will experience different activities across AlUla showcasing traditional Saudi garments and costumes, street musician performances, Saudi soldiers’ parade, roving actors and more.

With an expansive array of programs, these are the 10 highlights of Saudi “Founding Day” weekend that visitors should not miss.

Cultural Oasis, Old Town and AlJadidah
Aimed at engaging the local community with their cultural heritage and for families to enjoy the weekend, AlUla welcomes visitors from all ages on an agricultural tour in the eco-gardening farm in the Cultural Oasis to relax under the date palm trees while sampling a variety of traditional local foods, including the must-try Saudi Coffee in the farmers’ market. In addition, the streets of Old Town will be filled with the aroma of Bakhour, which represents Saudi culture and hospitality, while one can immerse oneself in the sounds of various instruments played by street musicians portraying local music. And in the streets of AlJadidah immersive and interactive theatre will represent times gone by.

FAME: Andy Warhol in AlUla

Produced in collaboration with The Andy Warhol Museum, which holds the largest collection of the artist’s work and archive, FAME: Andy Warhol in AlUla brings together some of the Warhol’s most recognizable artworks in an exhibition curated especially for the mirrored building of Maraya, AlUla’s premiere arts and cultural venue.

Curated by Patrick Moore, Director of The Andy Warhol Museum, the exhibition explores the concept of fame through the lens of Warhol’s life and work, from his childhood in industrial Pittsburgh to his career as a celebrated artist who depicted Hollywood glamor and celebrity in distinct, unforgettable ways. FAME presents Warhol’s paintings and prints alongside his “screen tests” of 1960’s counter-culture icons, as well his groundbreaking sculptural and interactive work Silver Clouds.

FAME: Andy Warhol in AlUla, February 16-May 16, 2023, Maraya. Free entry with registration on experiencealula.com

Cinema AlJadidah & AlUla Cinema Week

As part of the festival, Arts AlUla welcomes a new permanent activation aimed at celebrating film – Cinema AlJadidah is the city’s premier outdoor theatre that will showcase arthouse films, blockbusters, Arabic movies, and more. A film program by Cinema Akil launches Cinema AlJadidah, featuring titles that delve into land art, specifically relevant to AlUla with its various site-responsive art projects, including Desert X AlUla and the upcoming Wadi Al Fann.

From February 23 to March 4, Cinema AlJadidah will present AlUla Cinema Week in partnership with the Red Sea International Film Festival, showcasing a series of impressive local and  international films, starting with a mini red carpet event and screening of Sattar by Saudi filmmaker Abdullah Alarak. The week also includes days dedicated to Arab, international, and Saudi short films.

AlUla Cinema Week in partnership with the Red Sea International Film Festival, runs from February 23-March 4, 2023. Tickets can be purchased for SAR 35 on experiencealula.com.

Alicia Keys in Concert

The much-lauded Grammy Award-winning singer Alicia Keys returns to AlUla for her second concert in the historic city. With her distinct voice and uplifting messages, the singer, songwriter, and producer will perform at Maraya on February 24, building on her close engagement with AlUla’s culture and heritage.

Her presence sends a strong message about the role of history and art when it comes to empowering people, especially women, towards successful creative journeys. Her return is accompanied by Good Intentions, a Saudi-based creative consultancy that will accompany the weekend with events and special experiences, including a private dialogue at Madrasat Addeera entitled “Women to Women” on February 25.

Prices for concert tickets start at SAR1,200, February 24, Maraya, AlUla. Tickets available on experiencealula.com.

Wadi AlFann Guided Tours and Hikes

An extraordinary new hiking journey is now available at Wadi AlFann, ‘Valley of the Arts’, a spectacular 65 sq. km. valley that will soon be a new global destination for contemporary art, design and culture. The site will feature art commissions by world-renowned artists James Turrell, Agnes Denes, Michael Heizer, Manal AlDowayan and Ahmed Mater. Although the first works are yet to be ready by 2024, visitors in the meantime can take this five to seven-hour guided hike through the valley, navigating the canyons and dunes while learning about the Wadi AlFann vision and each artist’s narrative and monumental work.

The tour includes transport from Winter Park meeting point to the hiking route, after which an experienced tour guide will lead people through the Wadi AlFann journey. The tour includes a stop at Art in the Landscape visitor center, where the permanent works from previous Desert X AlUla editions are installed. Refreshments will be provided before the tour, followed by a return transport to Winter Park meeting point.

The Wadi AlFann Guided Hikes are taking place every Friday and Saturday until 18 March 2023. Tickets for SAR350 at experiencealula.com

100 Best Arabic Posters

100 Best Arabic Posters presents imaginative and eye-catching graphic designs from the Arab world. Launched in 2015 at the German University of Cairo, the unique platform showcases the creations made between 2020 and 2022  within the region’s contemporary visual culture. Held biennially, the initiative highlights graphic design’s versatility – its aesthetic value and its functionality as a tool of communication and expression.

The open-air exhibition, located within the town of AlJadidah, includes posters created for the Cairo Jazz Festival, Palestine Cinema Days, Cairo Video Festival, as well as posters for local initiatives and creative projects. 100 Best Arabic serves as a reference for graphic designers, visual artists, and scholars within the Arab world and beyond.

100 Best Arabic Posters, on view April 30, 2023 AlJadidah. Entry is free for guests.

Of Myrrh and Silver Walking Scent Tours
Of Myrrh and Silver Scent Walking Tours will evoke the rich history of the Incense Road through a sensory performative walk, leading visitors through an immersive journey of scents, from myrrh to botanicals to roasted Arabic coffee. Inspired by AlUla’s legacy as the heart of the Incense Road, the tour will have visitors weave through the oasis, AlJadidah, and Old Town, bridging performance, bespoke scent design, sound and poetry. The ticketed tour will also offer encounters with sound and music related to the ancient trading route in a unique stroll through the atmospheric environs of AlUla.

Of Myrrh and Silver Walking Scent Tours, 75 minutes, every Friday and Saturday until March 25, 2023, AlUla Oasis (meeting point). Tickets for SAR50 at experiencealula.com

Living in Colour Guided Tours
Led by Hukat AlFann, the Living in Colour Guided Tours will take visitors through the Community Square in the Arts District and AlUla Oasis to see newly commissioned and temporary public art, including community artworks and murals by artist eL Seed, as well as the unique community hand-painted urban carpet in AlJadidah. The duration of the ticketed tour is 75 minutes, though visitors can also conduct a self-guided tour with the help of AlUla Art’s print and digital guides.

Tours take place on Thursdays at 9:30pm, Fridays at 4pm, Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 10am. Tickets for SAR50 at experiencealula.com.

The Resonant Shell

Commissioned by AlUla Arts for the AlUla Oasis, this compelling and immersive installation considers how architectural design can offer experience centered around mindfulness and wellness. Titled Resonant Shell, the site-specific artwork is by Nathalie Harb and Youmna Saba and takes the shape of a tower with mudbrick and fabric as its material.

Set within the Oasis, Resonant Shell will provide a meditative experience as visitors enter an architectural structure that acoustically isolates external sounds, bringing to focus a sound-work drawn from AlUla’s desert and geology.

The Resonant Shell, on view until March 18, 2023, daily from 6pm to 11pm, AlUla Oasis, near Oasis Square, AlJadidah. Free entry

AlUla Artist Residency Program
On view until March 18, the AlUla Artist Residency exhibition Palimpsest of Time: Explorations in Creative Practice brings together artists from the current and previous residency programs to present their works in Mabiti, a guest house and palm grove that is home to the artist residency, and in Madrasat. Palimpsest of Time celebrates the 25 creatives who have participated in the residency program so far, creating a dialogue between present and previous cycles. The artists for the most recent edition are Daniah Al Saleh, Mohammed Al Faraj, Afra Atiq, M’hammed Klito, Sabine Mirlesse, and Augustine Paredes.

Palimpsest of Time: Explorations in Creative Practice is on view until 18th of March at Mabiti. Free entry.

Arts AlUla Festival will run until February 28, with some programs extending through May. For more information, visit experiencealula.com.



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